Rough diamonds can hurt people

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Rough DiamondWA Opposition Leader Troy Buswell was publicly humiliated after admitting inappropriate behaviour in 2005 towards a female staff member in his staff. The reported incident, and the emotion he displayed at last week's media conference, has become a media plaything that has paradoxically turned Buswell himself into a victim.

There have been a number of attempts at damage control since the media conference. It is unfortunate that they have been directed more towards the electibility of the party than the damage to the dignity of the human beings involved.

At the time of the media conference, it was not clear where the incident was going. It seems some even thought the admission might give Buswell and the WA Liberals some degree of political traction ahead of the state election expected later this year. There were dissenters, but party members appeared steadfast in their loyalty to the leader. Deputy Kim Hames described Buswell as a 'rough diamond with a robust sense of humour'.

It left the party open to public speculation that they were revelling in the fresh turn of events that had perversely made their leader the stuff of popular legend, at least among other rough diamonds in the electorate.

It was not far-fetched to compare Buswell with fellow newsmaker Cory Worthington Delaney, whose irresponsible party boy antics won him star status earlier this year. There is no turning back for Worthington, with his much-heralded gatecrashing of Channel Ten's Big Brother household taking place last night. The public lauding of Delaney has given acceptability to gatecrashing parties and, by extension, the invasion of people's private space.

But for Buswell, it's turning out to be a different story. He was roundly condemned by radio talkback callers late last week. As late as Friday, he was still arguing that he was the best person to lead the party to the election. But the consensus in his party was shifting quickly, and he is likely to lose the leadership in a spill today or tomorrow.

It has become clear that Buswell is no longer the appropriate person to lead the WA Liberals. But what is most unfortunate about the succession of events is that the party appears to have been prompted to act only when it became obvious that its electibility was at stake. The issue of Buswell's actions was secondary.

Eureka Street will soon publish an article on workplace bullying, written by former Victorian Equal Opportunity Commissioner Moira Rayner. She is critical of a culture that tolerates workplace bullying which, alongside sexual harassment, was an important dimension of Buswell's reported conduct:

'Bullying is a massive problem in working life throughout Australia. People get hurt when they are publicly humiliated and offended. It is especially serious when perpetrated by a leader, and even in 2005 that is what Mr Buswell was.'

Troy Buswell's days as WA Liberal leader may be numbered, but it seems there is work to be done before the human rights and dignity of individual citizens is put ahead of other prizes such as electibility and stardom.


Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street. He also teaches in the Media and Communications Department at the University of Sydney.

Flickr image by jeff-o-matic

 

 

 

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Existing comments

Would this man have acted in this way towards another man? I think not! This action is not done in the context of a robust sense of humour it is harassment and intended to demean and I find any acceptance of the behaviour untenable.
Why does this country have a male culture which fails to grow beyond this ghastly and inappropriate behviour.
Judy | 05 May 2008


Wouldn't the problem be better addressed by Troy Buswell remaining as leader and leading by example in a change of culture?
Bullying and harassment are as you say endemic in so many areas of Australian life. Let those who are without sin cast the first stone.
margaret | 05 May 2008


Clearly the WA Libs can't detect the difference between a rough diamond and a coprolite.
Bill Higgins | 05 May 2008


Not only should he immediately resign as Liberal Party Leader he should also immediately resign as a member of parliament. For some days it seems that Mr Buswell was unwilling to face up to the truth of what happened. Such bullying and dishonest behaviour is unacceptable in any job but particularly from someone who is supposed to be representing the needs of the electorate.
David | 05 May 2008


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